Sunday 7 December 2008

Police need a sense of proportion

There's a worrying trend in the UK for police to mount anti-terrorist style dawn raids on fairly flimsy grounds. And shooters are more likely than most to fall victim to this heavy-handed approach.

I was horrified to hear from a shooter last week, who had been accused of threatening behaviour towards ramblers on the farm where he has permission to shoot. He maintains it's a case of mistaken identity, and all he's ever done is ask the odd dog walker to get back on the footpath.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn't; I wasn't there. But the idea of being 'innocent until proved guilty' goes out the window where guns are concerned. The police barged into his house, and removed all his guns and ammo. Weeks later he has not been found guilty of anything, but he still doesn't have his guns back. He fears they're standing in a cold, damp police cell, slowly rusting away and will be worthless by the time he gets them back.

There have been worse cases, of gamekeepers' doors being kicked in at 6am, people being questioned for hours, fingerprinted and DNA sampled, their computer and mobile phone confiscated, etc, all on an unproven allegation. It took gun dealer Mick Shepherd 9 months to clear his name; will his business ever recover? No doubt the police will cite Health & Safety (their own), danger to the public, the possibility of an accused person disposing of evidence. And no doubt they are careful to stick rigidly within the law (albeit one that was passed to combat international terrorists).

The excuse that gets trotted out on these occasions is that police 'can't afford to take risks where guns are concerned'. Well sorry, but yes they can. That's what they're paid for. Life is one big risk, and we expect police to manage risks in a sensible, proportionate way. Otherwise they'd be calling in helicopter missile strikes on fleeing carjackers. Or suspected fleeing carjackers... once you start thinking in those terms, there's no end to it. 

It's all very worrying for those of us who keep guns, and do our level best to stick within the law, but know that a malicious complaint from an anti could lead to a terrifying ordeal and our lives being turned upside down. 

MPs discovered that they aren't immune from this kind of treatment, when police raided Damian Green's home and 2 offices recently. And they don't like it. Good. Maybe it will lead our politicians to reconsider the powers they keep handing to the police, and the ways in which the police use those powers.

My local force has adopted a slogan: 'With you, making Surrey safer'. If you're quick, you can sometimes see it on the side of a police car as it tears through the village at twice the speed limit. I want to believe it's true. But I'd also like to think that if some malicious ratbag phones them up and says I've been mouthing off, they'll pop round for a polite chat, rather than hitting my house Princes Gate style and frightening the life out of my wife and kids, 'just to be one the safe side'. 

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